Category Archives: technology

global news sites

Here are the links that I mentioned in my presentation. There are many others out there, of course, but some of these might prove productive if you were trying to give students a different perspective on world events.

I found this first group of sites the most interesting:

The rest of these are more predictably oriented:

tech tool

Greg let me on this online Powerpoint-ish presentation tool – – it is user-friendly, but very limited compared to the actual PP. But it does what it claims to do – give you a quick presentation.


In light of our recent readings about and discussions of usability and digital literacy, I found the New York Times’ recent explanation of it upcoming paywall—and some of the immediate reaction to it—interesting. From a usability standpoint, it seems like the Times may have skipped that step. One of the chief complaints about the plan is how clunky (and confusing) it is. Here’s a link to the full explanation, and I’ve copied the publisher’s letter to readers below:


March 17, 2011

A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions

This week marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.

This change comes in two stages. On Thursday, we rolled out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the United States and the rest of the world.

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The New York Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and the rest of our rich offerings on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access up to a defined reading limit. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.

This is how it will work, and what it means for you:

• On, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.

• On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.

• The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices (computer, smartphone, tablet). More information about these plans is available at

• Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free access to and to all content on our apps. If you are a home delivery subscriber, go to to sign up for free access.

• Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.

• The home page at and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.

For more information, go to

Thank you for reading The New York Times, in all its forms.



Publisher, The New York Times


I suppose there’s some irony at work here—a business that (sometimes) makes money by communicating with readers does a poor job of explaining to those readers why it wants to charge them for something they’ve been getting for free for a decade now. Beyond the usability example—which might be the basis for an interesting classroom exercise—I wonder, if the turn to paywalls works for mainstream media outlets, how that might affect this kind of digital literacy. Will it, for example, send consumers to less traditional (and traditionally ‘written’) sources of information, thus complicating the literacy picture even further?

Networks-a practical application

“Ultimately, a network is defined by how well it allows its members to see, decide and effectively act.” —- GEN (R) Stan McChrystal

Over the past few lessons we have focused upon networks and organizations. I found this article by GEN (R) Stan McChrystal, former commander of US special operations forces in Iraq, and all NATO forces in Afghanistan,  relevant to our discussions.  GEN McChrystal describes the construction of a modern networked Army, and provides some insight along the way into the question “How does it work?”

You can read the article here:,1

McChrystal offers several characteristics that define a succesful network, characteristics which might be useful as an example of what Spinuzzi has termed an “activity network.”  For McChrystal, leading a network intended to respond and counter an opposing network, it became paramount that his network enable decentralized decisions that cut across the organization.  In his efforts to expand the network, he first had to encourage the erosion of traditional institutional boundaries, at the same time meshing diverse institutional cultures.  The network valued competency above all else (particularly relevant in a military system which often privileges rank and hierarchical structure).  Networks, he advocates, should seek clear, and evolving problem definition while continually revisiting aims, processes and structures–both internally, and in this specific, case the opposing enemy network.  A succesful network continually grows the capacity to inform itself.

While reflecting upon the article I began to think about the importance of the concept of audience adaptation to technical writers in an expansive network composed of diverse organizational cultures.  Leaders of such a network must “build shared consciousness and purpose,”  technical writers can play a key role assisting leaders attain this aim.  Writing in such a context requires consideration of the reader, the removal of jargon, or the development of lexicon common to all.  It seems to me that technical writers in similiar context would be well served by continually engaging with readers, to ensure not only that messages are clear and concise, but effectively contribute to knowledge production.  The infrastructure of the network McChrystal described provided many alternate technological means to accomplish this reader engagement during the drafting process: f2f, video teleconferencing, document sharing, telephone.

Information Ecologies Assignment

For this assignment, Bill Wolff takes Nardi and O’Day’s basic heuristic and has students enact the information ecology online (through blogs, a CMS, social bookmarking, and a basic RSS feed reader). I think this assignment is a really interesting take on the potential for Nardi and O’Day’s work to be used in a professional writing classroom.  Students can see not only how information is generated and circulated online, but also become aware of how genre is enacted and performed.

Also, it gets students doing something other than an analysis or ethnography of an established ecology (like a specific office, or workplace).

For the full assignment, go here.

The question I am struggling with now is:

How could this assignment (or Nardi and O’Day’s model in general) be modified specifically for business/professional writing?

I just got genre analysis assignments back from students yesterday, I am anxious to see what they did with them. I really have no idea what the successes (or failures) will look like.

Nardi, Spinuzzi, and the university

The terms keystone species and locality stand out for me in regard to pairing  Spinuzzi and the Nardi info Ecology site. Keystones are defined as people by Nardi but I was thinking that genres are such keystones, especially in some settings. In business the genre of the memo – while it changes and is adapted – seems to be one. If the “memo” as social action were removed, sure, business communication would still go on, but not in the same way. it would be a different thing. it may be a center absence thing, a wheel with spokes that don’t meet in the center-  that is, the “memo”  may operate as “real” but because of its ietrability, it is not. But to the people in the locale, I would think the “genre” to them is keystone.

in regard to the second concept, genres operate as a locality in that “stuff gets done” in their “space.” Nardi writes: The identity of the technology is different in each of these local settings because the perceived role, availability, utility, and other properties of the machines are different. So w are so much concerned with identifying the piece of technology, or in my case, a genre, but what it does. The college app essay is an example. its perceived role, utility, and properties are different.

in regard to teaching, I would suggest getting students to see that “information ecologies” exists, or should exist, should be a take away for my class. But to get to that end, I would use the university or the business school as a business, as a information ecology, as a research subject. It is something they are familiar with – which makes it hard to “see” it in a different way. But if they can learn to see this as a place that is complex and has these features, and all the genres that go into such a place, then that wisdom could carry over to their careers. My only problem at this point is that the “co-evolution” aspect may be difficult to bring out as the university is often seen as a stodgy, inert institution. Though Nardi nears that concern with: For example, as schools across the country are wired by enthusiastic volunteers on NetDays, school teachers and administrators should expect to make decisions about how to use the new classroom Internet access not just once, but again and again. The Internet is rapidly changing, and the information ecologies in which the Internet plays a role must participate in those changes.


Week 4 Post

Our readings and discussion about design/usability brought a couple of assignment ideas to mind. The first, I’ll admit, feels a bit elementary for a 400-level course. But the Kramer & Bernhardt piece got me thinking about how little many students seem to know about the basic design capabilities of their primary writing tool: the word processing software on their computers. Think about all of those papers we’ve received with font changes, margin problems, line-spacing issues, paragraphing inconsistencies—you name it. If students can’t master basic print-on-page style options, can we really expect them to make smart decisions about larger design issues? Maybe we can. But I’m going to work on an assignment that forces students to learn more about the multitude of design options they have available to them in, say, Word. And I don’t want them to simply memorize the options available in Word. Rather, I hope to develop an assignment that will help them approach basic document design (starting, again, with print on page) with usability (and the rhetorical situation) in mind. Maybe I’ll call it “Beyond Default Settings” or something like that. More on this as I develop some concrete ideas (and I would welcome any thoughts …)

The second idea is more advanced, I think, but just as undeveloped at this point. Anyway, the question I’m starting with is this: How can we help students really understand the concept of usability in design? (Especially in the design of professional/technical/ business documents/texts.) I’m thinking about an assignment that would force students to pay attention to the texts they “consume” regularly and the often unconscious evaluations they make as they decide which of the texts they engage with fill their needs, which fail, and—most importantly—why. I guess this is another kind of analysis, but I think it could be useful in helping students work through what it means to design an effective (usable) professional/technical text.